The Internet has been around so long that domain registrations have become a commodity.  The competition is fierce, and margins are small. Registrars compete for your business not only on price, but also on added features like bundled hosting and DNS service. And among the sales tactics is the offer of free domain registrations.

The reality, of course, is that there is no such thing as a free domain registration.  Somebody pays for it.  And while there is nothing wrong with giving a customer a “free” domain when they purchase other services, as one of my colleagues recently found out, ethics among hosting services greatly vary.

My colleague purchased a hosting plan for $5.95 per month with that included a free domain.  According to the terms of service posted on their web site, there shouldn’t have been a problem:

“You have all rights to transfer, sell, or modify your domain name to another person or individual. If you decide to sell or transfer your domain name and HostPapa is the domain name registrar, please request our “domain name transfer instructions” by sending an email to We will send you the specific details and information about transfer of ownership.”

But, when my colleague decided to transfer his domain to another registrar, he found out that it wasn’t that straight-forward.  Host Papa had registered the domain in their own name.  In email, he was told,

“The $100.17 you paid upon sign up with HostPapa was for a hosting account. We included a FREE domain as a thank you for creating an account with us. This domain is only free as long as you are a HostPapa customer, hosting the domain on our servers.

If the domain was not free, you would have been charged $126.37 for hosting and a domain purchase. Now that you wish to cancel your services and take your domain away, the invoice I have created for your domain in the amount of $26.20 covers the cost of HostPapa registering this domain on your behalf when you signed up with us.

This is standard for anyone cancelling their account and wishing to retain their domain.”

During his email discussion with them, at one point a representative of HostPapa wrote chillingly, “Legally, the domain name is ours.”

We contacted HostPapa and inquired, and they explained,

“Yes, you can transfer your domain name to another host at a later date, however, there will be a fee of $24.95 + GST for Canadian clients to release the domain, since it’s only free as long as you are hosted by us.”

Your domain name is key to your Internet presence, and losing it can have a significant impact.  Assuming you maintain a backup of your web site, you can easily move to another hosting company if you control your domain.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

First, keep in mind that virtually anyone can become a ‘registrar’ through a simple reseller agreement. The fact that a company can register a domain for you doesn’t provide any indication of business ethics. Search the web, read their agreements carefully, and do your best to check our their reputation.  Be cautious if transferring your domain requires emailing or telephoning support or the description of the process is vague.

Second, check your domains to ensure that they are registered in your (or your company’s) name, not a provider’s.  If you don’t already have a favourite “whois” tool or web site, try If the domain is not in your name, contact the registrar immediately and ask that it be corrected. If they refuse, indicate that you wish to transfer your domain to another registrar. But keep in mind that as far as the domain registration world is concerned, the owner is the entity listed in the whois database.

Third, consider using a separate registrar from your hosting provider.  If you’re more technically inclined and have a number of domains, you might consider opening your own reseller account with a large registrar like Tucows and becoming your own registrar.  It also might make sense for you to use a third-party DNS provider like  Ideally you want control of your domain information including the contact names, addresses, and DNS servers. Your registrar should allow you to update at least your DNS information through a web-based interface.

Leave a Reply